Sunday, July 15, 2007

Happy Travails


So much happened in the world of politics and creeping fascism last week I thought I might comment on it last Friday.

But, alas, as I returned from a doctor’s appointment in late morning that day, my Internet service was gone. As was my cable TV. Although the phone worked – I have bundled cable internet, cable TV and phone service from a bankrupt piece of crap company called RCN – I was distraught; cut off from the world. Reduced to having to putter around the house, read a book and, gulp, talk with my wife. RCN may be history soon just because of their financial mismanagement, but they will be history in this house pretty soon.

They say that loss of a loved one and moving are the two most stressful events. This is the second time in several months that I have lost Internet access for days at a time. Let me tell you, I would put this at No. 1 on the stress parade.

I am not bragging here, but confessing, that I live on the Internet. I look at it as in invention that had been waiting to happen for my benefit because every aspect, from looking things up, to chatting, to storing personal data, to making new friends and staying in touch with old, fits my personal needs.

Even the act of typing faster than I think, which amazes chatmates, is a natural outgrowth of operating a Teletype starting at the tender age of 19.

Anyway, life pretty much sucked from about 11 a.m. Friday to 6 p.m. Sunday, and the story of how life came back may be of interest -- a true travail, and here is my story. It may be boring, so please feel free to depart now.

Naturally, I called the 800 number for RCN on Friday, and a recording told me there was an area-wide outage here and in Chicago. No problem, thought I. That big and they would have it resolved. So I went to one of those art movies at an art house with my wife, who used to drag me to abominations like “Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” in her previous life as someone paid to teach “Contemporary European Cinema.” But I had wanted to see this biopic about Edith Piaf.

The movie was Edith Piu. A total waste of celluloid and a libel upon the enchantreuse. It was the first biopic I have ever seen that trashed the subject, and I don’t think that was the director’s intention. He just did a miserable job of ruining the French scenery.

Friday evening, and still no Internet. I remembered that a lot of useful stuff can be done on the computer offline – playing golf, hearts, composing crossword puzzles, doing a little actual paid-work. Went to bed early. Too early.

Saturday, I slept in, leisurely read the paper and then went to the library to use its wi-fi, spending a few hours catching up on my life. Saturday evening, I figured out that in one room, where we have a cheapie TV without a cable box I could pick up some over the air channels and amazingly some of the basic cable channels. That should have been a tipoff, but it wasn’t.

You see, I had been calling RCN routinely. On Saturday, there was no recording about an outage, so I was connected with someone probably in Mumbai who started to tell me how to reboot my modem and router. I interrupted and said I didn’t think the problem was in my house because of the outage reported yesterday. She said, oh, yes, there is an outage and they don’t know when it will be back.

Sunday morning, I called, a bit irate about the slow return of service and was told, again, it was an area-wide outage. I didn’t believe it but who ya’ gonna call on a Sunday? The billing office wouldn’t open till the next morning. So I went to the library. Horrors!! CLOSED!!

I went to the other nearby library and was heartened to find that in this community of some of the most educated people on earth, people were milling around waiting for a 1 p.m. opening. It took me, an undereducated sort, to read the sign that said it was open from 1 to 5 p.m. on Sundays “September through May.” The overeducated milling mass said, “Hmmm, but I was here a month ago.” Well, maybe in their minds May was a month ago of Sunday. I was told a nearby coffee place had free wi-fi, so I walked back to my car and then noticed the red digital notice on the wall of the library saying, “CLOSED.”

Damn those liberals in charge of my county, where no one pays for ambulance service, and the schools are among the finest, as are the wine and cheeses. It has been years, perhaps decades, when I cared about the library system. But now I do, and you should, too, because it is a good bet the local library has Internet access if you should lose yours. Of course the library has it, because what else would animate rube censors. (In my community, however, the censors are overeducated do-gooders who are quietly removing “To Kill a Mockingbird” from a required reading list. I bet you can guess why.)

So I go to the coffeeshop, find the last seat at a table and order a Coke and a cookie. I sit down and realize there is not and electrical outlet and, unexpectedly, the laptop's battery was low.

Well, as a last resort, I made my first-ever visit to Starbucks, where for the price of a small iced tea and $9.99 for 24 hours of service within the next 120 days, I plunked myself down and got through my major tasks. Thence, home.

I suddenly remembered the phone is an instrument of communication, so I made a call to a friend who reminded me in passing how upset I was the last time this happened. A lightbulb went on.
The last time I was out for days was the result of the company having earlier boosted my cable signal because I am literally at the end of the line. The service guy installed a “repeater” or something in an outdoor outlet at the back of the house. The last time my service went out and RCN claimed it was my fault, I prepared to pay a fortune to get a service call, but the guy who came out idly wandered around the house and found the plug was loose.

That solved the problem. On Sunday, when my friend reminded me of the last time, I slapped my forehead and rushed out to check the plug. It was in, all right, and secure looking. But I gave it a little tamp anyway, raced back in, and voila! Cable and TV service.

And all the time RCN was telling me that all of Washington and Chicago were still without service for well over 50 hours.

The upshot? 1) I wish my memory were better and it hadn’t taking a passing remark by a friend to remind me of what to check and 2) RCN is going to be sorry it ever signed me up as a customer.

Oh, yeah, and as for the week in review, let me make a long story short: Cheney is a criminal mastermind, Bush is a criminal idiot, General Petraeus is about to become the next fall guy, and the concept of executive privilege to hide conversations that were claimed never to have happened will go to court; the good guys will lose and the Roberts Gang will have permanently castrated Congress – the people’s houses.

Have a good week!


About 10:45 p.m., Sunday evening, the power went out. It was a neighborhood thing, and electricity was fairly quickly restored. But, alas, not the cable TV, not the internet and now, not even the phone!

I used my cell phone to call RCN one more time. When the operator asked where I was calling from I asked what country SHE was in. Seemingly taken aback, she replied, "Pennsylvania." Feeling pretty good about that, I then asked to speak to "a supervisor with some authority."

Eventually, Mike, (ID #13901) came on, listened to my story, listened to me ask for an explanation not of why RCN went down on Friday or Sunday but why service reps were lying about the outage all weekend, and then offered a discount on my bill for the next six months.

That's nice, because at least someone in the chain of fools recognized that this is a competitive business and, like the airlines, we do have a choice. Limited, but it's something.

Here' a final thought for people on both sides of the political aisle: Remember when utilities, airlines, trucking, phone service and the mail were highly regulated by the federal government? I don't have an answer as to whether tight regulation or lax regulation is better ideologically or economically, but I do know that things used to work!


  1. Anonymous7:37 PM


    I know you are justifiably cranky, but things are not as bad as you think in our home county. See the Post editorial this AM.

    Readjustment, Not Retreat
    Montgomery's tweaking of a lesson plan stays true to a classic.

    Monday, July 16, 2007; A14

    THE READINGS are powerful and provocative. One is a poem that captures the hurt of a black child called a racial slur. The other is a thoughtful essay on words as weapons. That they made one student squirm would not necessarily justify their removal from the official curriculum. But it was cause for Montgomery County educators to take a second look. It's to their credit that they've devised a new curriculum just as forthright in dealing with the charged issue of race.

    Students in ninth-grade English read "To Kill a Mockingbird," and because the classic is set in a different time, other reading is required beforehand to provide historical context. It's especially important since the characters in the book employ racial epithets that were common to the South in the 1930s but that now, rightly, are anathema.

    Last fall, as reported by The Post's Daniel De Vise, a 15-year-old African American student complained that the readings upset her. Some have criticized school officials for indulging in what they call political correctness. We think they were right to be sensitive to issues raised by an obviously thoughtful student. That the subsequent investigation revealed other students and teachers to be uncomfortable with the material is evidence that they did the right thing. Some teachers, in fact, said they didn't use the material because they didn't think their students could handle it. Educators concluded the readings might be counterproductive to their aims.

    Montgomery, it must be stressed, is not banning "To Kill a Mockingbird." It's been distressing to see other school systems both locally and across the country pulling the book and other American classics when complaints arise about the language employed. Neither is Montgomery retreating from providing unsettling information that sets the scene for the injustices depicted in the book. Witness the essay by Henry Louis Gates Jr. on the casual demeaning of his father. Finally, the two readings at the center of the controversy are not being pulled from the schools, and any teacher who wants to continue to use them still will be able to do so, as can any student.

  2. I hadn't read the editorial when I wrote my parenthetical screed, and it is another example of how an editorial was written a lot more clearly than the original news story, which certainly left an impression otherwise.

    Which is why I am also cranky the Post won't hire me on the copy desk.